Concerning Cannabis Indica

Victor Robinson, M.D.

The habitat of the hemp-plant is extensive: not by the hand of man were the seeds sown that gave it birth near the Caspian Sea, where it wildly flourishes on the banks of the immense Volga; it climbs the Altai range and thrives where the Himalaya rears its stony head ten thousand feet on high; it extends to Persia, and China knows it; the Congo River and the hot Zambesi bathe it in Africa, it is not a stranger in sunny France, and how well it thrives in Kentucky the numerous readers of the Reign of Law will ever remember.

In the 17th century Rumphius noticed that there were differences between the hemp grown in India and the hemp grown in Europe. In the 19th century Lamarck accepted these distinctions, and believing the Indian hemp to be a separate species, agreed in calling it Cannabis indica, as distinct from the Cannabis sativa of Linnaeus and Wildenow. But it is now conceded that from a botanical standpoint the variations are by no means certain or important enough to warrant the maintenance of Indian hemp as a species distinct from common hemp. And as the greater includes the lesser, in botany as well as in geometry, its botanical name is Cannabis sativa, with Cannabis indica as one variety, just as Cannabis americana is another variety.

The hemp grown in Russia is of a fibrous quality, and was largely used for the gallows—to hang the opponents of despotism. Rope, however, is not the only use to which the fibers can be put; they are extensively employed in clothing, and in the manufacture of paper.

The plant is also cultivated for its seeds, which contain a large quantity of oil, and is therefore used in pharmacy for emulsions, and in the domestic arts because of its drying properties. But the seeds are chiefly used as a favorite food for birds. In fact, some birds consume them to excess, which should lead us to suspect that these seeds, though they cannot intoxicate us, have a narcotic effect on them. The seeds also contain sugar and considerable albumen, making them very' nutritious; rabbits eat them readily. They are consumed also by some human beings, but are not as good as sunflower seeds.

The medicinal hemp—the hemp with the potent narcotic principles—is Cannabis indica. In this case we have an example of compensation that would have made Emerson's eyes glisten, for although the fibrous texture of hemp disappears under a southern sun, to make up for the loss there is secreted a resin—Churrus. This resin is collected in a most singular manner. During the hot season, according to Dr O'Shaughnessy, men clothed in leather run violently through the hemp-fields and brush forcibly against the plants. The soft, sticky resin adheres to the garments, and is later scraped off and kneaded into balls. Dr McKinnon informed Dr O'Shaughnessy that in the province of Nepal even the leather attire is dispensed with, and that the natives run naked through the hemp fields, gathering the resin on their bare bodies.

When the larger leaves turn brown and fall to the ground, it is an indication of the approach of maturity. The flowering tops are then cut off, and subjected to a process of rolling and treading by trained human feet. The hemp is placed on a hard floor surrounded by a rail; the natives take hold of a revolving post, march around and around, singing the while, and press the plants in a technical manner. Whether the perspiration which drips from their unshod organs of locomotion works any chemical change in the composition of Cannabis has not yet been determined by E. M. Holmes or E. W. Dixon.

It is not surprising to learn that dealing in hashish is a Government monopoly, and that heavy punishment is meted out to those offenders who buy or sell it without permission. 'The importation of it into Egypt is so strongly interdicted,' explains the Dispensatory of the United States, 'that the mere possession of it is a penal offence; we found it, however, readily procurable. It is said to be brought into the country in pigs' bladders, in the Indo-European steamers, and thrown out at night during the passage into the Suez Canal, to be picked up by the boats of confederates.' This deplorable state of affairs is apt to remind us of our own temperance towns—where there are always some individuals who possess the faculty of obtaining whisky ad libitum.

Cannabis saliva is a member of the Moraceae or Mulberry family, which family was formerly an order of apetalous dicotyledonous trees or shrubs, but is now reduced to a tribe of the Urticaceae or Nettle family which embraces no genera and 1,500 species.

Cannabis is an annual herb, and thus endures but one year, because instead of storing away nutritious matter in underground bulbs and tubers like the industrious biennials or perennials, it exultingly expends its new-born energy in the production of beautiful blossoms and the maturation of fruit and seed. 'This completed,' says Asa Gray, 'the exhausted and not at all replenished individual perishes.'

Sexually, hemp is dioecious, which means that its staminate and pistillate organs are not on the same plant. When cultivated for its narcotic properties, only the flowering tops of the unfertilized female plants are used, and the male plants are eradicated with great care, as it is claimed that a single one can spoil an entire field. The process of weeding out the males is performed by an expert called a poddar, who brings to his work a conscious technical skill, and an unconscious but interesting argument in illustration of what Lester F. Ward has described as the Androcentric World View, for the poddar deliberately reverses the names of the sexes, and designates the useful females as males, and calls the rejected males the females.

Cannabis is from four to twelve feet in height; its stem is angular, branching, and covered with matted hairs; its leaves are palmate and, therefore, roughly resemble an open hand; its leaflets are lance-shaped, possessing margins dentated with saw-like teeth; its flowers are yellow and axillary, the male cluster being a raceme and therefore pedicelled, and the female a spike and consequently sessile or stemless; the five male organs or stamens contain pendulous double-celled sacs or anthers; the two female organs or pistils have glandular stigmas, the stigma being the spot where fertilization occurs; the fruit is a grey nut or achene, each containing a single oily seed; the whole plant is covered with a scarcely visible down; the roughness of the leaves and stem is due to the silica, which is a characteristic of the plants of the Moraceae.

Not much need be said of the microscopical characteristics of hemp, for although the powder contains several histological elements, as pollen grains, glands, crystals, resin, fibers, vessels, stone cells, epidermis, parenchyma—indicating presence of stem, leaf, flower, seed—its characteristic hairs or trichomes with their cystolith deposits are of sufficient diagnostic value to make it readily recognizable.

Unfortunately, when we come to the chemical constituents of Cannabis, certainty is at an end. As Dorvoult's L'Offidne says, 'La composition chimique du cannabis indica est mat connue.'

'I have extracted an alkaloid from hashish,' says Preobraschensky, 'and it is potent.' 'No, we have found the active constituent,' say T. and H. Smith; 'it is the resin cannabin.' 'No,' says Personne, 'I have isolated the important ingredient; it is the amber-colored volatile oil, cannabene.' 'Oh, no,' says Fraenkel, 'I have discovered the active' principle—it is a phenol aldehyde.' 'No, indeed,' say Wood, Spivey and Easterfield, 'it is we who have separated the only active ingredient—it is a red oil, cannabinol.' 'Oh, not at all,' says Hamilton, 'not one of these is the active constituent; in fact, the active constituent has not yet been isolated.' In such an arena, where the masters dispute, it behooves the amateur to speak with a stammering tongue.

As to the physiological action of cannabis: It primarily stimulates the brain, has a mydriatic effect upon the pupil, slightly accelerates the pulse, sometimes quickens and sometimes retards breathing, produces a ravenous appetite, increases the amount of urine, and augments the contractions of the uterus. In other words, it has an effect on the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, excretory and genito-urinary systems.

As a therapeutic agent hashish has its eulogizers, though like many other drugs it has been replaced by later remedies in various disorders for which it was formerly used.

In medicinal doses Cannabis has been used as an aphrodisiac, for neuralgia, to quiet maniacs, for the cure of chronic alcoholism and morphine and chloral addiction, for mental depression, hysteria, softening of the brain, nervous vomiting, for distressing cough, for St Vitus' dance, and for the falling sickness so successfully stimulated by Kipling's Sleary— epileptic fits of a most appalling kind. It is used in spasm of the bladder, in migraine, and when the dreaded Bacillus tetanus makes the muscles rigid. It is a uterine tonic, and a remedy in the headaches and hemorrhages occurring at the final cessation of the menses. It has been pressed into the service of the diseases that mankind has named in honor of Venus. According to Osier, Cannabis is sometimes useful in locomotor ataxia. Christison reports a case in which Cannabis entirely cured the intense itching of eczema, while the patient was enjoying the delightful slumber which the hemp induced. It is sometimes employed as a hypnotic in those cases where opium, because of long-continued use, has lost its efficiency. As a specific in hydrophobia it was once claimed to be marvelous, for Dr J. W. Palmer wrote that he himself had seen a sepoy, an hour before furiously hydrophobic, under the influence of cannabis drinking water freely and pleasantly washing his face and hands! Despite the value of personal observation, it is not hashish that has caused mankind to cease to fear Montaigne's terrible line: 'The saliva of a wretched dog touching the hand of Socrates, might disturb and destroy his intellect.' Frankly, if hashish depended solely on its therapeutic potency for its reputation, it would be resting in the pharmacologic graveyards of the past. Cannabis indica need not be included in the restricted list of 'Useful Drugs'.

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